‘God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.’ Do you know who said this? It sounds like the kind of thing Jesus would say, but it wasn’t him. It was Joseph. He said it to his brothers when they discovered he was alive and had become ruler of Egypt (Gen 45:7). But it’s not the only statement made by Joseph that resembles Jesus. In fact the whole pattern of Joseph’s life had strong similarities to Jesus. As a result some Bible scholars even consider Joseph to be a kind of ‘Jesus’ of the Old Testament.
In this post I will highlight a number of parallels between Jesus and Joseph, but I will focus on one specific one; the moment that Joseph revealed himself to his brothers after his promotion and how it compares with the moment that Jesus revealed himself to his disciples after his resurrection. Joseph’s moment is well illustrated in the movie clip below. It’s worth watching. Unfortunately it may not show in Austria, Germany, Switzerland and the UK due to their different copyright regulations. But you can still get the idea from the Bible text below the video:
The text for this clip is Genesis 45:1-10. But notice how similar the account of Jesus is in Luke 24:36-44. Here the two texts are side by side Genesis in blue and Luke in red: Taking a broader look at the lives of Joseph and Jesus we see a lot of similarities. Both were –
Beloved sons – Jacob had twelve sons but loved Joseph the most. He made a nicely decorated coat for Joseph that set him apart. Jesus was set apart as the Beloved Son when the Father said ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:17).
Claimed to be special – Joseph’s dreams foretold that he would rule his brothers. In one of them he saw his brother’s sheaves bowing to his. When he informed his brothers they were jealous. Jesus also made special claims about himself and got jealous reactions from the Jewish brothers of his day.
Tempted and overcame – Joseph was tempted by Potiphers wife but never gave in. This is significant as even Jesus’ closest disciples gave in to temptation. We only need to think of Peter denying Christ or James and John conniving to get the best positions. But Joseph past the test and in this he was like Jesus who was tempted by the devil in the wilderness but never gave in.
Entombed – Joseph was thrown into a pit and was later imprisoned, but he emerged from both ordeals to rule Egypt. Jesus was crucified and entombed but emerged alive to rule heaven and earth.
Betrayed for silver – Joseph’s brothers sold him for silver, and Judas betrayed Jesus for silver. Just as Judas was haunted by the blood-money and threw it into the temple, Joseph’s brothers were haunted by the silver that found its way back into their bags after they had used it to pay for food in Egypt.
Table of twelve – Joseph and his brothers made twelve at their first supper together in Egypt. Jesus sat with twelve at the first supper of the new covenant (the last supper before his death).
Counted as dead – Joseph was counted as dead by his father Jacob. When his brothers sold him they covered his coat in goat blood and claimed that a wild animal had killed him. His father mourned him. Jesus was dead and mourned and then appeared alive.
Raised to rule – Joseph was raised from a pit to rule all of Egypt. Jesus was resurrected from the tomb to rule heaven and earth.
Raised but not recognized – Joseph was not recognized by his brothers after he was raised and ruling Egypt. Jesus was not recognized by his disciples after his resurrection (Mary at the tomb and the two on the Emmaus road). Joseph had to reveal himself and so did Jesus.
Forgiving deliverers – Joseph forgave his brothers who threw him into the pit and sold him into slavery. Jesus forgave those who crucified him even while hanging on the cross. Joseph then delivered his family from the famine, and Jesus now delivers all who believe in him from sin.
Gave new life – Joseph told his family to forget their belongings and receive the best of Egypt. Jesus tells his people to forget this worlds stuff and to receive the best of God’s kingdom.
So the similarities between Joseph and Jesus are quite striking. But why would this similarity exist? Bible scholars say that Joseph is a ‘fore-shadow’ of Christ. It’s a bit like watching a Tom & Jerry cartoon. If Jerry the mouse is walking along and suddenly a shadow of Tom the cat falls over him, you know what is about to happen. Tom the cat is about to pounce on Jerry. Tom’s shadow is a fore-shadow; it tells Jerry that something is coming and that the something that is coming has the shape of a cat. Joseph was a fore-shadow of Christ; he had the same shape as Christ and so his life prepared us for Christ so that when Christ came we would recognize him. Joseph is not the only fore-shadow of Christ, there are many in Scripture. The post below this one describes how Noah and the ark fore-shadowed Christ and the cross.
I would like to finish with two practical points that we can apply to our lives:
1. The way up is down – so often like Joseph believers hear the call of God and then everything seems to go wrong. But like Joseph we need to continue to be faithful to God. Joseph was sold into slavery, but he became the best slave there was. Then he was put in prison, but he became the best prisoner there was. Then God exalted him to the right hand of Pharaoh and he became the best ruler there was. No matter what his circumstances were he kept doing what he knew was the right thing to do, and God was able to work his plan into Joseph’s life.
Jesus had the highest calling, but it all seemed to go downhill. In fact he hit rock bottom when he was crucified and buried. You can’t go lower than that. But he was faithful to God the Father to the grave and God made a way. Jesus was resurrected and exalted to the right hand of the Father.
Faithfulness to God will get us where we’re called to be, one way or the other.
2. He is with us now – Joseph’s brothers were in the same room as him but spoke like he was something of the past until he revealed himself to them (Gen 44:20). The disciples on the road to Emmaus spoke of Jesus as something of the past until he revealed himself to them (Luke 24:21). Then they realized the answer to all their questions and their very lives was right next to them.
The sermon you are reading was preached at Easter time, and so often at Easter we focus on the past. We act out the crucifixion and resurrection in dramas to portray what happened, we celebrate Easter in many different ways to remember what Christ did. But we forget that he is with us now, he is in the same room. Celebrating Easter as an annual event is well and good, but we must remember that we are not called to celebrate an annual festival, we are called to live resurrected life. Sometimes our focus on the Christ of the past robs us of the Christ who is present. The impact of Easter isn’t annual, it’s daily. Let’s enter into relationship with the living Christ moment by moment and live the new life he has called us to.